We would like to address a topic we hope will be a benefit to anyone who has taken it upon themselves to study and understand the Scripture. Often when we read the Scripture, we become our own worst enemy — and being cognizant and weary of that fact is important. Here we would like to show ways in which we can unknowingly distort the Scripture toward our own heart, our own desires, and ultimately our own destruction, as Peter has warned us.
So let’s consider his words in 2 Peter 3:16-18,
16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unscrupulous people and lose your own firm commitment…
With the best of intentions, Peter plainly warns us that we have a proclivity to distort the Scripture to our own destruction — which is a grave thing to hear from an apostle of the Lord Jesus — and such heavy words should be given due diligence. It would be foolish and self-righteous for us to assume that this warning applies only to other people — never ourselves.
When he says that even the Scripture can be something used to destroy us, we would do well to investigate what that entails.
In verse 17 Peter goes as far as to say that we should also be on our guard against people who distort the Scripture in this way — calling them unscrupulous — a word translated from the Greek “athesmos” (Strong’s G113), which Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines as,
of one who breaks through the restraints of law and gratifies his lusts
Peter uses the same word in 2 Peter 2:7-8,
7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the perverted conduct of unscrupulous people 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds)
With this word choice, Peter is comparing one who distorts the Scripture in such a manner to be like those in Sodom and Gomorrah. Also if we listen to someone who does this, we run the risk of losing our own “firm commitment” — but firm commitment to what? Hopefully in the course of this discussion, we will show what he means.
We will cover a telling sign that we can recognize within ourselves where — and how — we might be distorting the Scripture. Rest assured, if we do not do these things — and allow the Scripture to say what it is saying — it is hard not to see the message of righteousness and growing in a true knowledge of the Lord on every page.
BEGGING THE QUESTION
An all too common logical fallacy many people interpreting Scripture use — often unwittingly — is called “begging the question.” This concept was first coined by Aristotle, but when he explained it in the Greek, it was more along the lines of “asking for the initial thing.” Somehow through being translated from Greek to Latin and then English, it ended up being “begging the question.”
Many people falsely believe that “begging the question” means the same as “raising the question” or “demanding an inevitable question” — for example, “The length of War And Peace raises the question of whether or not anyone has the patience to read it.”
In a valid argument, when we state a conclusion, we must give a premise which supports that conclusion. However, when we “beg the question,” our premise simply assumes that our conclusion was true in the first place.
For example, “Red is the best hair color, because it is the reddest of all hair colors.” In saying that, I have presumed that red is the best hair color. The premise of the conclusion — red hair is the reddest hair color — was actually the same as the conclusion itself — red hair is the best hair color. I still haven’t explained why red is the best hair color.
Another example could be, “Summer is the best season, because it is the warmest of all seasons.” In saying that, I have presumed that warm weather is the best weather — the premise that warm weather is the best weather assumed that warm weather is the best weather. It did not show why warm weather is the best weather.
A strong tell in the above two examples is that the premise and the conclusion were actually the same — however, the fact that they are the same is sometimes not very obvious — especially when we are interpreting Scripture..
So let’s use another example, except this time using the Scripture: “God is love and it would not be loving toward the cow to kill and eat it, so you shouldn’t do it.” The premise of the conclusion is that God’s love is something which extends to cows in a manner which precludes us from eating them. This does not show us why God’s love is that way, or how we can define it that way — rather, it merely assumes that it is that way. The premise of God’s love assumed that cows shouldn’t be eaten — without first bothering to prove it.
Begging the question is very closely related to — or even synonymous with — “circular reasoning.” In circular reasoning, the premise and the conclusion are essentially the same idea — just like the example with the cow above. Given that they are the same thing, the premise does not and cannot actually prove the conclusion.
Using the example of red hair, circular reasoning would state that red hair is the best hair color because it is the reddest hair color. Therefore, the reddest hair color is the best hair color because red hair is the best hair color.
There is a very crucial reason why people make such arguments — and believe such arguments — which beg the question or have circular reasoning — and that is simply because they want to. In other words, such arguments are very persuasive to people who wanted to believe the conclusion in the first place — or even already believed the conclusion.
You will find this rhetorical strategy often when “preaching to the choir” — where your audience already agrees with your premise and conclusion — so they will be predisposed to any evidence confirms both premise and conclusion — without even realizing they are one and the same.
EXAMPLES OF BEGGING THE QUESTION IN SCRIPTURAL EXEGESIS
Here we’ll present some more common examples we have all seen to better demonstrate this concept of “begging the question” more clearly.
Revelation 4:1-2 says,
1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and someone was sitting on the throne.
We have often heard Christians claim this passage is proof of a “pretribulation rapture” — in fact, it has become a foundation stone of that doctrine. The pre-trib doctrine states that the door being opened in heaven and John’s subsequent taking up to heaven is proof that there will be a “pretribulation rapture.”
When they use this passage as a premise for that conclusion, they are making the following assumptions:
- When the elect are gathered (Matthew 24:31), they will be taken up to heaven.
- When the elect are gathered, it will be before the “great tribulation” (Revelation 7:14).
- John being taking up to heaven in his vision is a reference to the elect being gathered.
However, Revelation 4:1-2 does not support or prove any of these assumptions — rather, those who presume pre-trib rapture to be true merely assume that’s what these verses mean. The passage itself clearly does not actually say any of these things — therefore, to use it to support the idea of a “pretribulation rapture” is begging the question.
Another example of this circular reasoning often arises out of Philippians 4:12-14:
12 I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. 13 I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 14 Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my difficulty.
Christians often use verse 13 to justify their belief that the Lord will strengthen them to succeed in their earthly endeavors, such as winning a sports game, closing a business deal, or, say, passing a test.
They merely assume that verse 13 is an unqualified statement which they can apply to anything which they — their own subjective view — feels the Lord should be helping them with.
However, the qualifying nature of Paul’s statement — the Lord strengthening Paul through hunger and to stay right-minded in prosperity — is evident in what he has said. When we choose to ignore these explicit qualifiers in these verses, we end up merely “begging the question.”
Another popular passage to beg the question is with Romans 9:16-18:
16 So then, it does not depend on the person who wants it nor the one who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very reason I raised you up, in order to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the earth.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
We have heard it often argued that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because of a “judicial hardening” — the idea that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh deserved it, not because God “raised [Pharaoh] up in order to demonstrate [His] power in [Pharoah].”
The assumption is that God did not take mercy on Pharaoh — judicially — because he deserved it — despite the fact that mercy is fundamentally a choice not to take judicial action against someone who deserves it.
To word the assumption another way, the passage says that God raised Pharaoh up for a specific purpose — to demonstrate His power. The assumption states that in spite of that, it was by Pharaoh’s own actions that God decided not to have mercy on Pharaoh — rather than Pharaoh being raised up for that very purpose in the first place.
To word it even another way, Pharaoh’s evil actions preceded God’s intent to raise Pharaoh up as a medium with which to demonstrate God’s own power — as opposed to Pharaoh’s heart being hardened as a result of God raising Pharaoh up to demonstrate God’s power.
The assumption doesn’t support the idea that Pharaoh was hardened due to a judicial hardening — rather, it merely presumes it. The reason it presumes it rather than supports it is because Paul didn’t actually say that Pharaoh was hardened because he deserved it.
As a final and oft-quoted example is Genesis 4:6-7:
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why is your face gloomy? 7 If you do well, will your face not be cheerful? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
Some have argued that because Cain was a literal child of Satan — and not of Adam — that he was therefore incapable of mastering his sin — that is, he was destined to do evil because of his satanic paternal lineage. They argue that the Lord actually had no intention for Cain to master his sin, but challenged Cain to do so anyway in order to prove that he couldn’t master it.
This convoluted argument is based on the premise that Cain was unable to master his sin — and therefore claiming that the Lord intended to prove that Cain was unable to master his sin merely presumes that Cain was unable to master his sin — without bothering to prove that Cain was unable to master his sin. Neither of these two points — that the Lord intended to prove something about Cain — and that Cain was unable to master his sin due to his lineage — are actually stated in the passage. Therefore, it is begging the question.
It is very important to note that certain Scriptures need to be understood based on assumptions; however, if we feel the need to propose an interpretation which is based on assumptions, those assumptions first need to be proven. Not only that, but at some point the assumptions need to be self-evident in the passage. The Scripture actually needs to state the assumption.
As a very basic example, consider Philippians 4:12-14 again. In refuting the interpretation which begs the question, we made an assumption: Philippians 4:13 is a qualified statement that cannot be applied universally to any endeavor someone may undertake. We needed to make that assumption, because if Paul meant Philippians 4:13 to be taken in isolation — cherry picked, as it were — then we would have to concede to the interpretation that we refuted.
However, when considering verses 12 and 14, it is self-evident that verse 13 was indeed a qualified statement. We were able to accept the words of verses 12 and 14 without making any further assumptions. At some point, an interpretation needs to rest on passages from the Scripture which require no further assumptions to be made. At some point, we need to accept the plain words of Scripture for what they are saying.
How does this all apply to distorting the Scripture to our own destruction though? Let’s use another example — this time one that is harder — and relevant to 2 Peter 3:16-17. Consider Matthew 5:20,
For I say to you that unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Many of us have heard the following circular logic applied to this verse: It is impossible to far surpass the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees — therefore, the Lord didn’t truly mean that we should strive to attain that righteousness.
Did you notice the begging the question in that logic? The conclusion was that we shouldn’t try to attain to a righteousness which far surpasses the scribes and the Pharisees. The premise was that it is impossible to attain that righteousness. The premise was made only because the conclusion was already assumed to be true — it doesn’t actually support or prove the conclusion.
Consider another example — Luke 13:23-24,
23 And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
They apply the same circular logic: they claim the Lord is saying that it is impossible to actually be righteous — and He is using the example of the narrow door to demonstrate that — asserting that the door is so narrow that no one will be righteous enough to enter it.
Here, their premise is that true righteousness is impossible to attain. The conclusion is that we therefore should not be overly concerned with attaining it. Another conclusion is that we shouldn’t accept the plain words of what the Lord is saying here. Again, their premise was made only because they assumed that their conclusions were true.
The circular reasoning in relation to Matthew 5:20 and Luke 13:23-24 creates a doctrine which removes the incentive to actually make the effort to attain righteousness — or to be able to enter through the narrow gate and be far more righteous than the scribes and the Pharisees.
Consider the premise, “it is impossible to actually attain righteousness in our own deeds.” If we were to accept this premise, we would need to prove it using the Scriptures. At some point, there needs to be a Scripture which is self-evident in which no further assumptions need to be made. To this end, those who uphold this premise might quote Romans 3:21-24,
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 but it is the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus
This passage states that through faith in Jesus Christ, we may attain to the righteousness of God. That justification is a gift of grace through the redemption promised to us in the Lord’s death and resurrection. Some will argue that given that it is impossible to attain righteousness — because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” — that supposedly through faith we are given righteousness automatically merely by believing in the Lord Jesus.
Out of this presumption arises the common belief that simply believing in the Lord Jesus makes us righteous regardless of whether we are actually living righteous lives or not.
Does this prove that it is impossible to actually attain righteousness by our own deeds? It doesn’t — because the Scripture doesn’t actually say that — rather it has again simply assumed its own premise. The words of the Scripture — “all have sinned” — is markedly different from the premise that it is impossible to attain to righteousness in our deeds and actions.
Notice the rhetorical sleight of hand here — the same premise was used in all three passages despite the premise not being self-evident in any of them. Those who uphold this view would probably have more verses to quote based on the same premise, but suffice to say that the premise is never self-evident in the entirety of the Scripture.
The premise quickly starts to get very tired, as we have plain, straight forward words like those in 1 John 3:7,
Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
John has clearly stated that if we believe that the Scripture tells us that we can be righteous without practicing righteousness, then we have been deceived. We are willing to accept that John’s meaning is self-evident — we accept it at face value.
Yet those who believe that the righteousness — which according to Romans 3:22 is based on faith — is nevertheless something attributed to us regardless of the state of our lives must necessarily make further assumptions about 1 John 3:7 in order to show why he doesn’t mean exactly what he says — a common conundrum for those who have a habit of begging the question.
James 2:18-20 says,
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to acknowledge, you foolish person, that faith without works is useless?
James is saying that he is able to display that his own faith is something tangible by his own works — that if we think faith shouldn’t result in works in a similar manner, then we are foolish. Again, we are willing to accept James’ plain words at face value. Proverbs 1:7 says of the foolish,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
This proverb states that the foolish just don’t like wisdom and instruction. If we connect that idea with the words of James, we could fairly conclude that he is saying that people who think that faith doesn’t have to have works actually merely despise wisdom and instruction. This observation is given to distinguish them from those who fear the Lord — wherein lies the beginning of knowledge.
Those who are foolish do not fear the Lord, so they despise His wisdom and instruction. Psalm 111:10 says,
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; All those who follow His commandments have a good understanding…
Here we see that those who fear the Lord will necessarily follow His commands and have a good understanding. Consider this verse again in contradistinction to the “fool” in Proverbs 1:7 — someone who does not like wisdom and instruction — and does not fear the Lord — and who will not follow the Lord’s commands and have a good understanding.
A BETTER WAY
In light of these verses, let’s propose another way of interpreting Matthew 5:20 and Luke 13:24. What happens when we simply allow the verses to be true without making extra assumptions? What if we actively try not to beg the question? Every premise we use must be a premise which already exists within the Scripture that is self-evident — rather than being a premise which presumes its own truth based on some agenda or bias that we have.
When the Lord says, “Unless your righteousness far surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20), we simply accept it. When He says, “many… will seek to enter [being saved] and will not be able” (Luke 13:24), we do not despise this instruction — and simply take it at face value. When He states that “the gate is narrow and the way is constricted that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14), we allow it in our hearts to mean exactly what He says.
These are frightening things to say — and one could even say that they may elicit some trepidation within us. However, Proverbs tells us that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge! The right kind of fear is good — it is productive. If we can accept His words and fear, then we have arrived at the beginning of wisdom and knowledge. We have arrived at the beginning of good understanding and not despising wisdom and instruction.
See how easy it was to understand? We didn’t have to devise ways to make it say something other than what it was saying. When John says, “the one who practices righteousness is righteous” (1 John 3:7), we can easily agree. When James says, “faith without works is useless” (James 2:20), we can see the wisdom in James’ words.
The beauty of it is that all of these sayings line up perfectly with one another — and with Matthew 5:20, Luke 13:24 and Matthew 7:14. We didn’t even need to bring in an extra premise which needed to be proven by some other verse. When we have no shame when looking at these words — accepting them for what they say, we become like the words of Psalm 119:1-8,
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the Law of the Lord. 2 Blessed are those who comply with His testimonies, And seek Him with all their heart. 3 They also do no injustice; They walk in His ways. 4 You have ordained Your precepts, That we are to keep them diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be established To keep Your statutes! 6 Then I will not be ashamed When I look at all Your commandments. 7 I will give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, When I learn Your righteous judgments. 8 I will keep Your statutes; Do not utterly abandon me!
The Psalm here tells us that IF our way is blameless, if we walk in the Law of the Lord, if we comply with His testimonies, if we seek Him with all our heart, if we do no injustice, if we walk in His ways, keep them diligently, and are established in His statues, THEN we will not be ashamed when we look at His commandments.
On the other hand, if we don’t do those things — or if we do not even aspire to do those things because we presume they are impossible, then we will be ashamed when we look at His commandments.
IF we do not believe we need to be righteous, then any verse which states that righteousness is mandatory will be like smoke in our eyes — and we will have no choice but to ignore it or explain it away. Alternatively, we would rather not be ashamed when looking at His commandments, so we invent circular logic which isn’t in the Scripture to make ourselves feel better.
We would argue that this is how we distort Scripture to our own destruction, as Peter warns against, because we simply disagree with what the Scripture says.
This is a very important lesson to learn: When we simply disagree with what is being said — or are ashamed at what it says — we tend to beg the question and invent circular logic to get around it. If we find ourselves struggling to accept certain words in the Scripture, and we find ourselves looking for ways to get around it — then that is a good sign that we need to stop and reflect on our motivations to do so.
A CASE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS
This is especially true when the words or commands of the Scripture are quite plain and easy to comprehend, but as Peter said, “there are some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). However, how could we hope to understand that which is “hard to understand” if we cannot even accept the plain words of the Scripture? Hebrews 5:12-14 says,
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the actual words of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to distinguish between good and evil.
Those who need the milk are those who need to become acquainted with the word of righteousness. In contradistinction, those who eat solid food are those who are mature — whose senses are trained to distinguish good and evil by practice. We need to be able to accept the plain words of Scripture — to fear them and to train our sense with practice, that we may “not be ashamed when [we] look at all [His] commandments” (Psalm 119:6).
Hebrews 6:4-6 tells us,
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Hebrews 10:26-31 likewise warns,
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has ignored the Law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severe punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Remember how we quoted Romans 3:21-24, where it says that all have sinned and being justified is a gift of grace? We have no shame at those words either — we are fine with it being true at face value. The Lord’s sacrifice was something that we didn’t deserve and there was no work which we could have done to deserve it — let alone the work of circumcision as Paul states in Romans 4. It is pure grace and mercy. Romans 3:25 says,
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in God’s merciful restraint He let the sins previously committed go unpunished
Here we are told that the sins we have committed in the past are forgiven — by pure grace and mercy — without anything you could have done — the record has been wiped clean. We can start fresh, purely by believing in the Lord Jesus by faith. There is no work of the law and literally nothing that could have done it except Jesus Christ alone — and our subsequent faith in His work.
However, the verses we have shown from Hebrews, 1 John and James — when accepted in their simplicity — reveal that going forward, “those who belong to Christ Jesus crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) If we have crucified our flesh, then we are dead, so that “we would no longer be slaves to sin; for the one who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7)
This may seem fearful and daunting, but that is good — fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge! Remember how Psalm 119 said, “I will keep Your statutes; Do not utterly abandon me!” (verse 8) Undoubtedly, these are words of fear. It is saying, “I will do it — just please don’t abandon me!” Whereas Hebrews 10:26 shows the condemnation against willful sin, this verse shows the heart of someone who does not will to sin.
However, it also says, “I will give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments.” (verse 7) It expresses thanks, because the desire to learn those ways — and fear of not learning them — has produced a sincere faith and certainty in the Lord that it will be done. We will come to that place where we have no shame, just as Paul said in Galatians 5:5,
For we, through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.
Through faith in the Lord Jesus, He will make us righteous! It is our hope that He will do so, because we have faith in Him to do so. It is not our strength but His, just as Peter said in 2 Peter 1:3,
for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
Paul says exactly the same thing in Romans 3:26, which continues on from what we have already quoted,
for the demonstration, that is, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
If only we have true faith in Him — according to a true knowledge of Him — He will justify us. 1 John 1:9 says the same thing again,
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
If only we will not justify ourselves — being meek before Him in humility — acknowledging our sin to Him — He will cleanse all of our unrighteousness from us. If we stop justifying ourselves, then He will justify us. He will do the work in us and for us, if only we will have faith in Him to do so. The Lord Himself says in Matthew 7:7-8,
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
If only we will come to Him and ask and seek Him with all our hearts, then we will find Him. Deuteronomy 4:29 says,
But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.
Jeremiah 29:13 says,
And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
If we ask for His righteousness, then we will for certain receive it. By His divine power, He will perform that work in us. Two beautiful pieces of writing from John display this perfectly. The first is John 3:16-21,
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through Him. 18 The one who believes in Him is not judged; the one who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
We all know these verses so far — they are a favorite among many who still need the milk of the word, that they may be acquainted with the word of righteousness. The word of righteousness is as follows:
19 And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil.
Those who love darkness do not come into the light because their own deeds are evil. If we engage in logic which begs the question so that we may disregard the words of the Lord Jesus and His apostles, it means that His commands were too burdensome for us — we refuse to let go and come into the light.
If we disregard Christ Jesus’ words — or the words of His apostles — then we are already judged, because the apostles are our judges (Matthew 19:28) — and Christ Jesus is our Judge (Acts 10:42). If only we will listen to them and come into the light, we will not be judged, because we already subjected ourselves to their judgement in their words in the Scripture.
20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, so that his deeds will not be exposed. 21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds will be revealed as having been performed in God.”
If we are too eager to cling to our evil deeds and gloss over the Lord’s words with circular logic, then we are admitting that we hate the Light. If only we will come to the Light and allow It to shine on us in all of Its glory, then it will be revealed that our deeds were performed in God — it is God who was doing it in us and not the strength within our own flesh — which is dead in the crucifixion of Christ.
The second piece of writing is Revelation 3:15-20,
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of My mouth.
The Lord is saying if we were cold, we would not have been considered in the first place — but anything less than hot is not good enough either.
17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have no need of anything,” and you do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked
He is directly addressing people who in their own minds have got all the answers and everything figured out in their faith. Likely they have disregarded His simple commands and rejected His power to bring about righteousness in us. The lessons of Luke 17:7-10 and Luke 18:9-14 teach that there is no point at which we should believe that we are “rich, and have become wealthy, and have no need of anything.”
18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to apply to your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
Here the Lord makes it clear that we need only to come to Him — to step into His light and invite Him in the door. If we do so, He will refine us and make us righteous.
By simply accepting what Scripture has said — and without begging the question — we have come to a “sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) We are not ashamed of any of His words.
Let us now consider Peter’s words which led up to the section on distorting Scripture to our own destruction — covering 2 Peter 3:10-18,
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be discovered.
Peter 3 until verse 10 is Peter’s admonishment that the day of the Lord is indeed coming — and that it is foolish to think that it isn’t. This is summarized in verse 10 itself, where he is saying that the day will come like a thief — our attitude should be that it could arrive at any moment.
He says that in the day of the Lord with its intense heat, the earth and its works will be discovered. Earlier in verse 7 he says that “the present… earth [is] being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly people.”
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness
Peter says given that the Lord could arrive at any moment — and the ill fate of the ungodly — what sort of people ought we to be? This is a rhetorical connection on his part — because he is certainly about to tell us what sort of people we must be. He has even tacitly told us already by telling as what fate awaits the ungodly.
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! 13 But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
He says that we should be a people who look for and would even hasten this day. We should be actively looking forward to it because in the heaven and earth which follow, only righteousness will dwell there. Implicit in this statement is a confidence that we will not be among the ungodly who are destroyed. This event with its destruction and subsequent righteousness should be the focus of our attention.
14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him, at peace, 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you
Peter confirms this when he goes on to say in verse 14 that considering we are looking for these things — accepting it as a given — we should be diligent to be found spotless and blameless before the Lord. He then says in verse 15 that if there is a delay in the coming of the Lord, that we should regard it as His patience for our benefit.
He also attests that Paul is wise and that Paul has been instructing the same things as what Peter has been instructing in his own letters — to be found spotless and blameless before the Lord.
16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which there are some things that are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.
He then says that some twist Paul’s writing and the rest of Scripture to their own destruction. In light of everything which Peter has outlined, what would cause one’s own destruction?
Naturally, it would be to twist Scripture into a doctrine which does not necessarily bring about a desire for the coming of the Lord. If we twist those writings into something which excuses us from being spotless and blameless before the Lord, then we are distorting it to our own destruction.
An example of this would be believing that literally every single Israelite will be saved and enter the kingdom regardless of whether they endeavored to be “spotless and blameless” before the Lord. Peter describes this type of doctrine here:
17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unscrupulous people and lose your own firm commitment
Peter states that we are to be on guard against those who would cause us to lose our own commitment by convincing us to distort the Scripture to our own destruction:
18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Instead of being caught up in these things, Peter says that we should be growing in the “grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But how do we know we are growing?
2 Peter 1:5-7 gives us some qualities which we should be “applying [with] all diligence”: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love. In verses 8-11 he says,
8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they do not make you useless nor unproductive in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For the one who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choice of you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.
Here he has stated the same thing as in chapter 3 — we must be growing and strive to be found spotless before our Lord so that the way into the Kingdom will be given to us — because if we do not, we will be found in the judgement of the wicked. It is not as though we are left to do this in our own strength, but He says in 2 Peter 1:3,
for His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
To “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” is to understand that by His divine power and help we have everything pertaining to life and godliness — if only we acknowledge our sin and ask Him.
This simple understanding is a critically important thing to understand in Scriptural exegesis — the interpretation of Scripture. If we are understanding Scripture in a way which brings us closer to spotlessness in a true knowledge of the Lord Jesus, then we are on the right path.
However, if we are understanding Scripture in a way which distorts it to our own destruction — if our understanding doesn’t encourage us to grow and to act as if the day of the Lord could be at any second — it is not a correct understanding.
We have come to a view which requires us to be “diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him” (2 Peter 3:14), which is Peter’s standard of Biblical exegesis. If we do otherwise, then we are distorting the Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16).
For good measure, a full reading of 2 Peter is encouraged when completing this article. When not engaging in begging the question and circular logic, it is hard to see Peter’s teaching as anything other than a call to righteousness — and submission to the authority of the Lord Jesus and the teachings of His apostles.
We often wonder why many Christian circles find it so hard to accept the plain words of the Scripture. Why are there so many premises and assumptions which assume their own “truth”? Why would we want to assume our own “truth” when we have the truth of the Scriptures right in front of us?
To go even further, why would we pay lip-service to the truth of the Scripture when it so clearly contradicts our own “truth”?
The only conclusion we can come to is that begging the question necessarily implies a disagreement with the Scripture itself. When we beg the question to make a verse say something other than what it is saying — without being able to prove our assumption as self-evident — we are tacitly admitting that we simply do not like what is being said. It is merely a refusal to bend our own will to the will of God. Matthew 18:3-5 says,
3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you change and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 So whoever will humble himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever receives one such child in My name, receives Me;
There is something about a child-like innocence which accepts the plain words of their parents — creating a vivid lesson for how we ought to see the words of our Lord and His disciples. We are to accept them with hearts as innocent as children and with the faith a child might have.
We are very privileged in these modern times to have the actual words of our Lord and His apostles. Thinking one can have a “truth” or special revelation which doesn’t need to agree with His commands — in spite of actually being able to read them — is tacit admission that one simply disagrees with them. Everything which we believe and do must line up, or we simply do not accept it as children.
Remember, Peter said that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him.” (2 Peter 1:3) He said not to be “unproductive in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:8) He said to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) If anyone tells us we do not even need knowledge — let alone a true knowledge of our Lord — to bring about salvation, they are telling us a lie.
With that knowledge so readily available according to the teaching of the Lord Jesus and His apostles in the New Testament, we have no excuse — and we need to accept it.
The case study we have covered here is probably the most severe case of disagreeing with the Scripture. It is a disagreement with the words of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. It is a disagreement the likes of which could cost someone their very eternal life — because of how believing such a thing will change their behavior in this life. It is a shame — because He has the power to do all of the work in us. This is the milk of the word.
There are many peripheral matters in the Scripture which are not matters of salvation; however on the conclusions of this case study we say, “So far and no further.” The gospel — the word of righteousness by faith in Christ Jesus — the milk — must be accepted for true Spiritual unity among brethren. Paul says in Romans 16:17-19,
17 Now I urge you, brothers and sisters, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such people are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting. 19 For the report of your obedience has reached everyone; therefore I am rejoicing over you, but I want you to be wise in what is good, and innocent in what is evil.
There can be no respect of persons or partiality when our brethren bring a teaching to us which is contrary to the teaching which we have learned from the Lord Jesus and His apostles. We also freely admit that even in such a case, it is no excuse to treat anyone with contempt. On the contrary, we should strive always “to make a defense to everyone who asks [us] to give an account for the hope that is in [us], but with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)
On matters not crucial to salvation, it is worth noting that as Hebrews 5:12-14 stated, if the milk of the word cannot even be accepted and understood, how could we even press on to maturity? Hebrews 5:11 states that those who cannot even understand the word of righteousness are “poor listeners.”
Therefore, let us strive not to be “poor listeners.” Let us be careful of ourselves — where we find ourselves disagreeing with plain words, let us be cautious. Proverbs 4:23 says,
Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.
Proverbs 4:19 says,
Listen, my son, and be wise, And direct your heart in the way.
We are to listen — and we are to direct our hearts. Our hearts are not to direct us because they will lead us astray. Our evil desires are wickedly clever and adept at fooling us into thinking we are right, but in reality we have only become like the fool of Proverbs 18:2,
A fool does not delight in understanding, But in revealing his own mind.
We must take on the mind of the Spirit instead of revealing our own mind, which is foolishness. We state unequivocally that even our own minds are foolishness — we accept that designation — and count everything as loss in the face of the glory and divine help of the Lord Jesus, to whom belongs eminence, authority, judgement and righteousness for all eternity.
Let us therefore keep an exegesis which does not distort the Scripture to our own destruction. Amen.